The new policy comes a day after the CDC recommended that all individuals wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status due to the spread of the Delta variant and as the Biden administration is poised to order all federal employees to be vaccinated by the fall, according to reports.
The White House has struggled to explain in recent days why indoor masking is necessary for those who are vaccinated and, at the same time, convince those who are resistant to the vaccine that they should get it.
The Pentagon's new policy marks a backtrack of its last mask guidance on May 13, 2021, which dropped the requirement for masks for those fully vaccinated.
It is also a continuation of more stringent masking policies, such as one issued on June 22, 2021, saying unmasked service members are required to show proof of vaccination, and unmasked DOD civilians have to do so too if supervisors have reason to believe they are unvaccinated.
Deputy Press Secretary Jamal Brown announced the newest policy in a statement:
Deputy Secretary Hicks has directed that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor settings at Department of Defense installations and facilities in areas of substantial or high transmission, as defined by the CDC, to protect against rising COVID-19 cases. Today's announcement applies to all service members, federal personnel, contractors, and visitors when indoors at all properties owned by the Department in those areas, in accordance with updated CDC guidelines.
All defense personnel should continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn. The Department will review and revise all applicable Force Health Protection guidance to address the new CDC guidelines.
The new mask policy, issued by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, also directs all individuals who are not fully vaccinated to physically distance consistent with CDC and DOD Force Health Protection Guidance.
The definition of “substantial” transmission in an area, per the CDC, is 50 to 99.99 new cases in the last seven days per 100,000 persons. The definition of “high” transmission is equal to or more than 100 new cases in the last seven days per 100,000 persons. The CDC posted current rates for specific counties on its website.
The new policy also instructs that the department provide masks for personnel coming onto a DOD installation and that DOD personnel should comply with CDC guidance on where masks should be worn, including in airports.